Musing on a recent open-access study at PNAS, astrophysicist Dirk Schulze-Makuch notes at BigThink a couple of things that separate really smart life forms from the others. One of them, he guesses, is bilateral symmetry (life forms whose left and right sides are mirror images): “symmetry requires less information for DNA to encode and allows more flexibility to develop future traits that may be advantageous.”
He also notes that smart life forms tend to be mobile rather than stationary: “We don’t know of any intelligent plants or fungi, for the simple reason that stationary things don’t have to be smart.”
Well, wait. It’s not so much that stationary life forms don’t have to be smart as… what good would it do them?
He urges us to consider the octopus:
But consider the octopus, which has quite a different body plan, with neurons distributed throughout its body, including the tentacles, and only a small brain in its head. Notably, the octopus is the oldest species on our list, our most distant relative in evolutionary terms. An alien, of course, would have no relation to us at all, so we probably should think more in terms of an octopus than an elephant when imagining how extraterrestrials would appear.”Dirk Schulze-Makuch, “What do aliens look like?” at Big Think (April 13, 2022) paper is open access.
Plus, he wisely considers convergent evolution. That is, what works is what can possibly make any sense.
We humans already incorporate technical aids into our body like contact lenses, pacemakers, and all kinds of prosthetics. Aliens may well use mechanical bodies with uploadable brains or might be completely mechanical — think Commander Data from Star Trek.Dirk Schulze-Makuch, “What do aliens look like?” at Big Think (April 13, 2022) paper is open access.
Okay but Commander Data? Mightn’t that be a galactic level failure? Hey, we shall see.
You may also wish to read: NASA develops a scale for assessing the chances of ET life We’ve come a long way from mere snatches of (maybe) information to the need for standards in evaluating the expected incoming mass.The idea is to give media some idea of the level of confidence in what the apparent signal might be telling us — biological activity or just chemistry?